Photo by Fraser 70D on August 19, 2013
Music has become a prevalent, almost essential, part of our lives. We crank up the volume and reflect in this sound mirror that reveals our inner selves, lending a voice to our unspeakable feelings and transporting our bodies to distant memories. The impressive role music plays on our emotional and social state has attracted much attention from psychologists and even influenced a new wave of modern therapy. But while many of us are aware of this musical revelation, a more intriguing facet has gone largely unnoticed: the most fundamental unit of music – sound.
Unlike music, sound constantly surrounds us. The beeping of a crosswalk, the whir of a fan, and the tapping of a keyboard, although unconsciously processed, have profound effects on our whole selves. Humans are bounding bodies of energy. We are entities consisting of cells that simultaneously vibrate at a rate of eight cycles per second, in astonishing congruence with the earth. Remarkably, sounds resonate with our cores just as well.
Audible or inaudible, they produce frequencies that align with the body’s core vibrations and unite body with sound. Like two dance partners, the perfect combination of frequency and being results in a harmonious ballad that feels effortless in each sway. In contrast, an incompatible vibration can disrupt our rhythm and have undesirable effects on our mood and comfort. If we could channel these “good vibrations” to tune our bodies, the benefits of a safe and natural practice would be worth something the Beach Boys would sing about! Fortunately, such a therapy exists.
Vibroacoustic sound therapy (VAST) is an alternative medical method that uses specific frequencies to heal both mind and muscle. Although this treatment has not garnered much attention, such a practice has been used far longer than one may expect. Dating as far back as 3600 BC, ancient peoples manipulated wall structure to capture sound and enhance vibrations that stimulate brain activity. Substituting chemical drugs with natural energy, this relaxation technique had a profound effect on early civilizations, so why not ours?
In an age where a copious assortment of pills stock grocery shelves, people have begun to rely on the unknown and not trust in nature’s given healers. To believe that something nontangible, such as vibrations, could touch us in such a physical way may seem incredible but is really only the beauty of nature.
The oracle chamber of the Maltan Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum. Ancient architects employed concave walls, niches, and cuts to control the movement of sound waves. Photo by Heritage Malta on January 21, 2009.
Modern medicine should focus on VAST and expand its use as an alternative, if not preferred, mental remedy. Though, where the mind goes, the body follows. Not only do vibrations elicit mental and emotional responses, but they also contain healing properties for physiological maladies. With psychological and physiological benefits, vibroacoustic sound therapy potentiates an impactful shift in current medical perspectives.
Placing hope in an evolving treatment, the school for the profound and multiple handicapped children (PLMD) sought to bring expression, awareness, and control to the fully dependent children who experienced various cognitive and physical disabilities. However, even with such a newly beneficial therapy, help seemed bleak. That is, until a boy with a particularly severe case cast hope.
M was in no way an obvious candidate for improvement. Suffering from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, uncontrollable spasms, as well as partial deafness and blindness, M disliked any form of interaction and would often isolate himself in his thoughts. Any chance he had to regain the essence of himself was soon put in the hands of sound therapy researchers. Treatments focused on vocal interaction through changes in pitch and volume as well as relaxation by low frequencies. Motor control was specifically targeted by the Soundbeam, an ultrasonic beam that produces a sound at any detected movement. In addition to intensive care, VAST offered M an ability he had not previously known – complete control.
A handicapped child uses Soundbeam to signal and increase awareness of his motor movements.
As a non-invasive therapy, VAST circumvents all fear of the unknown effects of a squishy, green pill and looming, radioactive machines and instead provides an aural and tactile explanation of sound medicine. Based on his own movements, M had the power to decide what sounds would be produced by the Soundbeam and when. Not only does this control promote mental involvement but it also challenges one to accept the healing process and willingly participate in prospect of positive results.
In the first year of sound therapy, M gained some conscious motor control and demonstrated finer, smoother movements. By his third year, M was increasingly aware of his surroundings, nearly able to sing along to certain music and often smiling. His apparent agitation would cease once therapy began as he sat upright, became mindful of his actions, and showed pleasure in self-expression.
What started out as a doubtful premise turned into an unimaginable success that no other practice could produce. VAST proved to have major effects on M and may be the needed solution for many others. Unlike other treatments, VAST emphasizes the importance of well-being, fusing both internal and external recovery. Nonetheless, a more physical application of vibrations does exist.
If vibrations can stimulate brain activity, then could such frequencies expand their influence on physical activity, or physical healing? M. Roelants, C. Delecluse, and S. Verschueren sought to explore this question in their experiment observing the unknown effects of vibrations on muscle deterioration. Their study specifically tested elderly women due to the participants’ age-related decrease in physical activity.
Employing whole-body-vibration (WBV) training, researchers had participants perform both static (immobile) and dynamic (joint-moving) exercises on a frequency-emitting platform. These frequencies would, in turn, stimulate sensory receptors that activate reflexive muscle contractions, similar to those experienced during physical activity.
A platform emits whole body vibrations.
After twelve weeks of WBV therapy, a significant improvement was noted in the women’s isometric and dynamic strength, speed of movement in knee extension, and counter movement jump performance. When compared to the conventional resistance training group (RES) who performed more rigorous exercises on a normal gym floor, the WBV group did not show significant advantages in resulting muscular strength. Therefore, WBV therapy proves to be just as efficient as the traditional form of exercise training for the elderly. Subsequently, VAST is a safer, less demanding exercise tool that minimizes strain on the elderly’s physical abilities.
As vast as the benefits may seem, should vibrations reign supreme to the ubiquitous use of drugs? Well, not necessarily…
Ultrasound serves as a median between vibration and drug. Using low frequencies, clinical ultrasound penetrates the permeability of the skin barrier and allows easy drug intake and diffusion. This needle-free technique known as sonophoresis occurs through induced cavitation (formation of an opening) and has unprecedented accuracy in its administration, targeting specific muscles and cells and minimizing invasive drug exposure. Such precision can be used in the destruction of cancer cells as well as lipoplasty, the restructuring of fat molecules. In addition, heat-inducing sound waves and enhanced protein synthesis can facilitate bone growth and tissue relaxation. Although now used in a variety of instances, medical ultrasound continues to be studied due to its diverse and unknown effects.
Ultrasonic waves change the permeability of the membrane and facilitate diffusion of drugs.
So, if you remain skeptical on the idea of vibrational healing and are stuck on conventional prescription medication, then ultrasound may be a perfect intermediate for you.
The intertwining psychological and physiological effects elucidate VAST as a promising practice that uses nature to balance nature. The power of vibrations is evermore significant as the world becomes busier, noisier, and smaller. Now is the time to listen and find the harmony within the crowd.